The announcement yesterday by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the election date being set for September 14 gives the parliament just a few weeks to get legislation passed, and the NBN Co just under eight months to get fibre connected to as many premises as possible.
Gillard chose to announce the date just under eight months out from the polling day in an unusual move, which she said was to starve off election date speculation and to provide certainty for business in Australia in the lead up to the election.
The announcement puts a fair bit of pressure on a number of tasks that the Labor government must achieve before September.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) will continue chugging along until election day, and the company — as was the case in 2010 — won't down tools during the election period. If the roll-out keeps going as planned, NBN Co will reach 341,000 premises with fibre (in both new and existing housing) by June, and assuming the NBN Co works every working day up until September 14 at the FY2014 average run rate, the fibre network will be available to 553,520 premises across Australia.
The fixed-wireless and satellite networks will be available to around about 331,250 premises, meaning that the network will be available to approximately 884,770 premises in total, provided NBN Co meets its targets.
As for how many people will be using services on the network by the end of June, NBN Co has set itself the target of 92,000 premises, according to the corporate plan. And if it is connecting as many premises as it expects, the company will have, at most, 95,625 additional customers using the NBN, bringing the total active services to 187,625.
The number is ultimately likely to be lower than this, however, mainly because the rate for the 2014 financial year will be largely affected by the switch off of the copper network, which is scheduled towards the end of the financial year. While the ramp up to the switch off date will likely see more in those first areas switch over, it is unlikely that NBN Co will hit the peak of new daily connections until towards the end of the financial year.
It's not clear at this stage what will happen with NBN Co should the Coalition win the election. The Real Solutions policy document released by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott over the weekend has exactly four dot points devoted to broadband policy, and it starts with a cost-benefit analysis being conducted on the network. Whether that means construction is halted, we don't know yet. The party has promised several times that it will flesh out its policies before the election, but hasn't done so yet, so we'll have to wait and see.
Data retention, IT pricing, and copyright reform
The committee charged with investigating potential reforms to national telecommunications and security legislation — that includes the controversial proposal to force telcos to retain customer data for up to two years — missed it's deadline to report back to parliament at the end of 2012. Between now and election day, the House of Representatives only sits for 37 days, while the Senate sits for 28 days.
This doesn't leave a lot of time for the committee to report back, for the government to draft legislation, enter it into parliament, and have it pass both Houses. The government was able to quickly pass legislation around deterring asylum seekers last year, but this legislation would likely face stronger opposition from the Coalition, and the government is unlikely to want to bring about any controversial legislation in the few months it has before the election. Internet filter, anyone?
The timing will also make it quite unlikely for anything to come from the parliamentary inquiry into why Australians pay more for IT locally than customers in other countries. That committee still has several hearings ahead of it, and probably won't report back to parliament for another few months. While IT pricing is an important issue, it's unlikely to be seen as one that needs legislation passed quickly through parliament.
The Australian Law Reform Commission's review into the Copyright Act, which largely focuses on how it should be adapted to allow for new technology and cloud computing, is not due to report until the end of November this year, putting it well past the next election before any potential changes are even considered.
Any major IT initiatives from the government are likely to pop up in the Budget in May. The government has already said that this will spell out the kinds of promises and policies that Labor will take to the election, and the Coalition will likely also begin releasing its policies after Budget.